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The Longest Hungarian Word

No, you won’t see the Longest Hungarian Word in this article, especially because it doesn’t exist. I may believe that the record holder is this little thing mentioned by Wikipedia, 447 letters long:
  It contains only one hyphen, the last one, the others are added to help browsers to display it readably.
  Translating the word makes it obvious why it can’t be the longest word, even if it would be existing. I won’t reorder any part of it to sound more natural in English, I’ll keep it in the original order.
  compound word length world record decision pressure neurosis syndrome complex manifestation developableness examination organization controlling department headcount unbuilding oppositional action group member identity_card renewal petition refusal decision collection realizing big company reshaping postfinancing application considering foundation advisory_board president assistant oppositional assassination examination committee sitting delaying proposal submitting form sheet completing checkability test
  (Létszámleépítés, “headcount unbuilding” means cut-back, shakeout.)
  To give life to this monster, you have to read most of it backwards and keep inserting “of”: this is the test of the checkability of the completing of the form sheet that’s submitted to propose delaying the sitting of the committee examining the assassination against the vice-president of the advisory board of the foundation that…
  And so on. Obviously, this isn’t a word but a compressed short story, but what’s more important, any word compound monster may be created this way. The rear leg of the flea sitting on a hair of the dog of the housekeeper of the wife of the retired professor of the university of mathematics. The screw of the hatch locking the package compartment of the replacement airplane of the wife of the president of the United States of America.
  No, Hungarian doesn’t use such words. Grammatically, this is possible, but even compounds of the length of számítóközpont-igazgató (computing center director) are discouraged, linguists recommend to disassemble it into a possessive structure: a számítóközpont igazgatója, the director of the computing center.

Other extremely long words are the oversuffixed ones. However, most of the best known ones raise the suspicion if they’re correct.
  This is very nice, but hard to interpret even for natives. Let’s disassemble it:
  töredezettségmentesítő – defragmenter (hard drive maintenance utility, literally “brokenness reliever”)
  el…tlenít – dis…ify
  …tet – make to…
  …hetetlen – un…able
  …ség – …ness
  I’ve lost it long ago. How was that? Eltöredezettségmentesítőtlenít – disdefragmenterify, for example, uninstalls the defragmenter from the computer. OK. Let’s shorten this word to elt. Now, elttet – makes somebody to uninstall the defragmenter. Elttethetetlen – it’s impossible to make somebody to uninstall the defragmenter. Elttethetetlenség – the impossibility of making somebody to uninstall the defragmenter.
  Huh. Now, how does it go on… telenítőtlenkedhetnétek…
  …telen – …less
  …ítő – …ifier
  …tlen – …less
  …ked(ik) – to be or become or behave like…
  …hetnétek – you (plural) would be able to…
  So, …ségtelen would mean lacking the impossibility of you-know-what, …ítő means somebody disendowing somebody from the impossibility of you-know-what, therefore …tlen means lacking somebody who would disendow somebody, …ked(ik) means somebody who behaves… how on earth?… as if lacking somebody who would disendow somebody, …hetnétek means that you would be able to behave so.
  Therefore, this nice little word apparently means “y’all would be able to behave as if you lack somebody who would disendow somebody from the impossibility of making somebody to uninstall the defragmenter”, but the problem is not that the word doesn’t exist and the claimed meaning in it doesn’t exist either, the problem is that its grammatical correctness is only true in a mathematical sense. If x and y are numbers, you can add them up. If a word ends in suffix x then suffix y can be added to it.
  Language doesn’t work this way. Somewhere in the middle of this word, it breaks not only semantically, but also grammatically. Every suffix is appended to a word of the appropriate part of speech, but seeing a sequence of 4-5 suffixes gives the view of confusion.

And this is the case with all those extremely long letter processions.
  szent – holy, saint
  szentség – holiness
  -telenít – un…ify
  megszentségtelenít – desecrate (a normal word yet, appears in texts)
  -tet – to make somebody to…
  -hetetlen – unable to…
  megszentségteleníttethetetlen – unable to make somebody to desecrate
  At this point, the word is becoming nonsense. Yes, a verb can receive -tethetetlen to explain it’s impossible to make somebody to un- (that verb), for example, if grandma is kezelhetetlen (untreatable, unmanageable), then she’s also kezeltethetetlen, it’s impossible to get somebody to treat her. But kezel is a short verb, megszentségtelenít is not. Appending such a long suffix compound to a verb already so long and oversuffixed is something that Hungarians don’t do in normal speech. Only for playing with words and breaking records.

It’s another interesting question that how long are the longest really existing Hungarian words. To answer that, we should first decide what’s a really existing word. That’s hard because of the flexible possibilities of forming new words. For example, if I write an article about a truck carrying the largest whale on the world, interviewing its driver, I may obviously call him bálnavilágrekorderszállítókamion-vezető, whale word record holder carrier truck driver. But is there such a word in existence now? Yes, there is, you can see it in my article, but if I accidentally delete the article, will this render the word unexistent?
  Leaving out such hapax legomenons, the longest words that can be found in different texts may be about 30 letters long. For example, rendszerleíróadatbázis-szerkesztő, system descriptor database editor – this is the Hungarian name of the Regedit program in Windows, seriously. 32 letters and a hyphen. Of course, this may take plural, accusative, possessives and case endings as any normal noun, so it may receive a few additional letters.

To find the longest word that’s not made up just for breaking the record, I’m afraid, we should take a large corpus of text, write a program to pick the words longer than a given threshold, and then examine the result to filter out such rarities as the whale driver and other errors. I have a large amount of Hungarian text, but it’s literature. Really long words are swarming in legal documents.

Láng Attila D., 2014.5.15.

! Hungarian in English nyelvek nyelvészet

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